games / Previews

Worlds of Magic (PC) Preview

December 6, 2014 | Posted by Marc Morrison

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I’m going to try and be as positive as I can about this game, going in. It’s in Steam’s Early Access program right now. Really, Valve should just rename it “Alpha Access”, since that is what most games are.

Worlds of Magic is a 4X game with a lot of the trappings of the genre. You start off with a single town, a few units, and told to start researching, building, and exploring. There are a *lot* of ruins and little areas to explore, which are full of creatures to fight against. Compared to something like Civ 5, you are literally tripping over something to do every fourth square or so.

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When you start a game, you’re told to pick what type of “plane” (land) you want to start off on, essentially dictating what type of difficulty you want. Prime is the standard one with decent resource and food stuffs. Air is replete with minerals but you need flying units to get around. Fire has good materials and magic power, but food scarcity is an issue. And finally Shadow has a ton of power, but is very hard to colonize. With that settled, you pick a faction, basically, humans, elves, orcs, undead, and “Draconians” (human dragons). Each has their benefits and weaknesses, like the Draconians can fly, but have slow population growth and an unrestful populace.

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Once that is done, you then pick Your Sorcerer Lord, which is where you delegate points, and specific bonuses. You get twelve points to allocate, and you can either put them either in a specific perk in the list on the left, or in the scary looking stat circle on the right. One thing you can do is actually power up stat by how many points you drop into it. If you want to have rank 9 in the Circle of Death you can, but it’ll be to the detriment of other schools or abilities. The stat circle gives rise to what spells you want to start off with. If you only put a single point into a school, you won’t have a lot of spells or slots to allocate for spells, but the more you put in, the more you’ll have.

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There isn’t a lot to city building at this point. You can build new buildings, or recruit new units, but not at the same time. That’s an idea of population unrest, but I didn’t really notice it too much. The biggest thing you have to concern yourself with is how you delegate population. You select where you want the population to go, either with food production, general production, or research. You’ll need to strike a balance here, or else you won’t have enough food for your army and some units will quit.
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Combat is almost something from a different game, in a good way. It’s a straight up square-grid strategy game, like a Disgaea or Final Fantasy Tactics. You are semi-instructed to place your units on a starting line, then the enemies appear and you can maneuver/attack them when in range. Considering most 4X combat is just two units slogging it out in automatic fashion (which is an option here, if you want), it does give a good sense of strategic thinking, if you so want. Combat is a real challenge though, so you will get stomped a lot without realizing why at first.

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The biggest problem I noticed so far with the game though is just with basic usability. There are a few tutorials in place, but I am praying that they are just placeholder text, because they don’t explain much of anything. When I first loaded the game up, the tutorial told me to click on my city to learn how to delegate tasks/build things. Only the dialog says “Click the upper right screen to build a new building.” The tip that said this was in the upper right of the screen, so that’s where I thought the build queue was, when it wasn’t. There was actually a small button on the city image itself that is the build queue for soldiers or buildings. Another UI problem came when I was trying to actually move my first unit. The game kept telling me for 15 minutes that you can move with the right mouse button to designate where you want a unit to go, and they will move there. I would click a square, the flag would plant, but the unit wouldn’t move. In frustration I randomly pressed every button, until one of them managed to bring up the spell research option. Once I picked a spell, then the game finally activated the “end turn” button, and after I did so, my unit could move finally.

The battle system is tactically interesting, but again suffers from some early UI problems. When I got in my first battle, all that was on screen was a row of green squares. I initially thought that either the game had crashed, or that it just didn’t load my two units into the staging area. There were two little pictures of my units in the lower corner, and once I clicked one, they spawned into the starting row. The thing is, the game didn’t actually *tell* me this. Some gamers like to figure stuff out on their own, and I can appreciate that to a degree, but when the player thinks the game just broke, that might not be a great thing. The particulars of combat, if there are deeper mechanics (I’m not sure), also weren’t explained at all.

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The camera is another issue I saw, which is just bizarre. I’m honestly not sure if it’s intentional or just an odd bug. Basically, if you press “Up” on the keyboard, it moves diagonal right/up. If you press left it moves diagonal left/up. If you press down, then it’s left/down, and right is right/down. As far as I could tell, the game is on a strange diagonal axis, so it makes actually getting around with the keyboard a chore. There is a pretty cool alternate top-down camera angle, going an extremely retro route, like a blend of 4X and Warcraft 1. Even in this angle though, which does have essentially an up/down/left/right directional focus, the keyboard makes this an unattractive process.

I also really hope that the actual little ruins I mentioned above are highlighted better in the final game. I actually completely missed them the first time I played, and only saw what they were when I clicked on one accidentally. Once I knew what to look for, I realized I passed about 15 of them already so I went back and went exploring.

It may sound like I’m ragging on this game in my preview, but I’m really not. I think the current 4X pinnacle game is probably Endless Legend, and there is some of this game that reminds me of it, particularly the battle system. The game still has a lot of features to implement though, and usability issues to hopefully correct. Considering the early status of the game though, you can’t hold it too much against it.

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Worlds of Magic, Marc Morrison